Speech for Minister of State Tim O´Malley, T.D. – All Ireland Lung Cancer Conference

I am very glad to join you here this evening to participate in the second All-Ireland Lung Cancer Conference. I would like to thank the Organizing Committee and in particular Prof. Carney and Dr. O’Connell for inviting me here this evening.

I would also like to welcome our guests from Northern Ireland to Limerick, and especially to Adare.

This conference brings together leading experts on the island to address issues of common interest for lung cancer treatment. This work is of particular importance given the heavy burden, which our collective health services have had to bear because of lung cancer.

We have All-Ireland Cancer statistics published on a collaborate basis involving the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry and the National Cancer Registry Board in Cork. The island statistics on Lung cancer are simply frightening:

  • Over 2,000 new cases of lung cancer per year.
  • Over 2,000 deaths per year.
  • It is the most common cause of cancer deaths in males and the second most common in females.
  • Incidence rates in females are well above the average for the E.U.
  • Despite spectacular medical advances in the last 50 years, lung cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer.
  • Overall, it accounts for 20% of all cancer deaths in Ireland.

Early stages of the disease are often asymptomatic. Early detection of lung cancer is infrequent and most cases of lung cancer are not diagnosed and treated until at an advanced stage. Not surprisingly, five year survival rates are low and only approximately 10% of cases on the island survive for longer that five years.

As this audience knows only too well, cigarette smoking is the leading etiologic factor for lung cancer. It follows that the single most significant measure to prevent lung cancer is to reduce the use of tobacco.

Our legislative framework which addresses tobacco sales, marketing and advertising on television is among the most robust in Europe. This framework was strenegthed this year under the Public Health (Tobacco) Act, 2002. The Act provides for a substantial ban on tobacco advertising and on all forms of sponsorship by the tobacco industry. There is a prohibition on the sale of tobacco products to persons under 18 years of age.

The Health Promotion Unit in the Department supports a number of anti smoking campaigns including the national ongoing Break the Habit developed in partnership with the Department, the Irish Cancer Society and the regional health boards. This programme targets the whole population to encourage smokers to stop smoking and non-smokers not to start.

In terms of the overall development of health services, the new Health Strategy, Quality and Fairness was launched last year. It provides a framework for addressing the prevention, detection, treatment and rehabilitation from smoking related diseases in Ireland, such as cancer and heart disease. In recent years, this commitment has been reflected in the increased level of investment provided. Since 1997, over €103 million has been invested in the development of oncology services, well in excess of the £25million initially envisaged in 1996 to implement the National Cancer Strategy.

This investment has enabled the funding of 80 additional consultant posts in key areas such as Medical Oncology, Radiology, Palliative Care, Histopathology, and Haematology, together with support staff throughout the country.

An additional sum of €29m is being allocated in 2003 for cancer services. This investment will ensure that next year we continue to address increasing demands in cancer services in such areas as oncology/haematology services, oncology drug treatments and symptomatic breast disease services.

I am also pleased to say that under the Ireland-Northern Ireland-National Cancer Institute Cancer Consortium, a research programme has been launched which will allow hospitals throughout Ireland to participate in high quality clinical trials of new therapies for cancer, helping to ensure that new and effective treatments are made available more quickly.

The prestigious National Cancer Institute in the US provides access to cutting edge research, prestigious clinical expertise and innovative technologies. Our health services are the principal beneficiaries.

My colleague the Minister for Health and Children, Mr. Micheal Martin has invested significant resources in the programme in order to establish an effective infrastructure for cancer clinical trials. To date, awards to the value of €3.5m have been made available through the Health Research Board to allow hospitals to recruit and train staff, improve facilities and take part in world-class clinical trials.

As part of the implementation of the National H ealth Strategy, a new blueprint for the future development of cancer services is being prepared. The National Cancer Forum in conjunction with the Department of Health and Children is currently developing the National Cancer Strategy 2003. Prof. Carney and Dr. Maccon Keane who will speak to-morrow are key members of the Forum. The existing Strategy is being evaluated to assess its success and the gaps in cancer services, which now need to be prioritised. The Forum is consulting with the ERHA and all Health Boards as well as professional bodies, voluntary agencies and other stakeholders as part of this process. Patients and patient advocate groups are being asked to assist in the development of this cancer strategy, which will set out the key areas to be targeted for the development of cancer services over the coming years.

The Strategy will have regard to existing policies in the areas of symptomatic breast disease and palliative care and the forthcoming recommendations of the Expert Group on Radiotherapy Services.

The developments, which I have outlined here today, describe an overall framework through which cancer services can be developed and provided in the most co-ordinated and effective manner.

Given the stark realities I have outlined, the work of the All-Ireland Lung Cancer Coalition is especially important. The Coalition have adopted a proven approach to addressing important health news. The approach is one of collaboration between experts on the island, to seek to develop a consensus on the management of lung cancer.

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate the involved with this initiative. The potential yields that such co-operation between physicians can offer to lung cancer patients are both necessary and important.

This Coalition has the potential to be very successful, both in terms of its symbolic importance and, at the practical level, of enhancing the management of lung cancer in Ireland. I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the support and contribution of Bristol – Myers Squibb to the All Ireland Lung Cancer Conference.

Thank you